Venturing into real Hedgehog Hollow countryside

One of the things readers love about my Whitsborough Bay series is that, while the setting is fictional, it is inspired by real places. The biggest inspiration comes from Scarborough but there are elements of Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and a couple of other local coastal towns and villages. Readers who are familiar with the area like to guess which pubs, cafes and landmarks they think I’m referring to.

When I started writing the Hedgehog Hollow series, my intention was to to do the same thing: to create villages in the books that were inspired by specific villages on the Yorkshire Wolds. But Covid hit and we couldn’t go out and about so I couldn’t do that and I didn’t know the area well enough myself. I only live a few miles away from the northern tip of The Wolds and I have travelled through the area oodles of times but I’ve never veered from the main roads to thoroughly explore the villages. I do, however, have a really good understanding of the beauty of the countryside.

What’s been interesting is that, although I haven’t used specific villages as inspiration, some readers who live in the area think they recognise certain villages on The Wolds. I love that because it means that I have properly captured the essence of Wolds villages in my writing.

Yesterday afternoon, hubby and I planned to go exploring for the afternoon but our plans were slightly thwarted. He had a last-minute opportunity to go for his 2nd Covid jab so we set off much later than intended, but then our daughter called us from her after school photography club to say the teacher had an appointment so it was finishing half an hour earlier so we had to cut our trip short at the other end.

We managed a stop in the middle of the countryside although the photos really don’t do justice to the stunning rolling hills and fields surrounding us – the real Hedgehog Hollow countryside.

We explored a village called Wold Newton with a pretty church and a village green with a pond. Check out that blue sky! I had flip flops on so some careful navigation was needed round the pond as there was goose poo everywhere!

How fabulous is this bus shelter? It was full of books, DVDs and games. I wondered if it had started during the pandemic to keep people entertained or whether it has been a community scheme running much longer than that.

I checked the shelves but couldn’t see any Jessica Redland’s loitering! I loved this book with what we call a Steven lighthouse on it. When New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms was first issued, it was called Searching for Steven and, as the book features a red and white striped lighthouse, we have since referred to striped ones as Steven lighthouses.

We also walked around a smaller village called Thwing but I forgot to take any photos.

Our next stop was driving through Butterwick, Weaverthorpe and Helperthorpe intending to park at the furthest and explore, but that’s when we got the call to go to school early so no more photo opps. My husband’s dad was born and brought up in Helperthorpe so I definitely wanted a good look around.

I will share more photos when we return and I continue on my mission to find some villages that are how I would imagine Huggleswick, Umplesthorpe, Fimberley, Little Tilbury and Great Tilbury.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

The one with the unusual Easter

Welcome to Whitsborough Bay

When I was a child, I loved Easter. It signalled two weeks off school – yay – and a huge stash of Easter eggs. I’d receive eggs from my parents, grandparents and all my aunties and uncles. Nom nom! They’d sit on the sideboard in our study at home (an internal garage converted into a room which was always cold – perfect for chocolate storage) tantalising me with their shiny foil promising chocolatey deliciousness. I don’t remember doing Easter egg hunts and I don’t remember there being an Easter bunny. Perhaps these are newer trends or perhaps our family simply didn’t embrace these traditions.

I attended Sunday School back then so I was always very aware of the real meaning of Easter. On Palm Sunday – the Sunday prior to Easter Sunday – the churches in our town would unite for a service in the Parish Church in celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem prior to his crucification then reseurrection. This was preceded by a parade up the high street by the uniformed organisations following ‘Jesus’ on a donkey. I was a member of Girlguiding from Brownies through to Rangers and would join the parade each year. We weren’t permitted to wear coats as our uniforms needed to be displayed proudly. Brr! I can remember spending many a parade shivering, blowing on my icy cold hands, desperate for the parade to end so we could get into the warmth of the church – only to discover the church was just as cold! I can also remember the hilarity of trying to dodge the donkey droppings as well as the couple of occasions when the donkey emptied its bowels in the church. Luckily there were flagged floors rather than carpets!

Choc & Books - Series & Secret

After I left home, I had many years Easter egg-less. It never felt right treating myself to one so I only got one if I had a boyfriend at the time. I remember one boyfriend buying me one when we were at university. It was a Cadbury’s creme egg one in the shape of a juggler where his tummy was the hollow egg and the juggling balls were two normal sized creme eggs and several mini ones. I was meant to take it home to eat over the Easter holidays but he gave it to me far too early and I couldn’t resist. By the time term ended, I’d eaten the entire contents but had pressed the foil back into the plastic moulding so it still looked untouched. Was that naughty of me?

When my daughter was little, I organised the occasional Easter egg hunt for her and some friends in our back garden or in the house if the weather was bad. We’ve done a few Easter crafts over the years but Easter has never really been a big thing in our house.  We’ve never decorated the house. It’s never been a time when we’ve got together with the extended family for a big celebration. My husband and I are both self employed and home-based so the long four-day weekend doesn’t mean the same as it did when I was in paid employment. More often than not, we’ve had to work over part, if not all, the weekend. And, because we live in a popular seaside resort descended on by hoards of visitors on bank holidays, we’ve always made a conscious decision to stay home all weekend to avoid the tourists and the traffic snarl-ups, promising our daughter a day out the following week instead.

Easter Bunny - Secret Only

This year, the residents of the UK (and many other countries around the world) have spent Easter in isolation and, for many, this will have been the first key family occasion since lockdown started. Families have been unable to meet. There’ve been no trips out. No parties, no picnics, no big family barbeques. National parks, heritage sites, and attractions are shut. Coast and countryside have urged visitors to stay away, stay home, stay safe with police positioned at key entry points into tourist resorts, turning away those who seem to think that they’re special and none of the rules of isolation apply to them. Businesses that normally embrace Easter as the start to the ‘season’ have no idea when – or even if – their ‘season’ will resume. And, of course, there are those working tirelessly in the NHS and caring roles, the other emergency services, in supermarkets, factories, and transportation who are trying to keep our country running under extremely challenging circumstance. My love and respect to every single one of you.

Churches world-wide have been closed and services have been online or individually held at home. My mum is the organist for her village church and she’s played during Good Friday and Easter Sunday services conducted via Zoom. She’s embracing the technology although said it was slightly odd when she finished playing and the singing continued for another half verse. The joy of the time delay!

For my immediate family of three, it has been like a ‘normal’ Easter bank holiday weekend where we’ve stayed at home and my husband and I have worked, while being very aware that everything about this weekend is not ‘normal’ at all.

Christmas at Carlys Cupcakes CoverI’ve been working non-stop since we isolation hit without a single day’s break. I knew this weekend would be no different but I made a conscious decision to take four days off from the day job. I know I’ll regret this when I see the queue of assignments waiting for me to mark when I log into my work email tomorrow, but I needed a break from marking. I’m on the first edits of another of the books from my back catalogue that Boldwood Books are going to re-release – Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes – so I’ve spend the weekend so far working on those. It therefore feels a little more like Christmas to me than Easter right now!

And I’ve been eating a very large Maltesers Truffle Easter egg which I broke into at 10am on Saturday. What do you mean, that’s not a healthy breakfast? Ooh, and I tried a creme egg yesterday for the first time in years. They’ve always been a favourite but I’d boycotted them after Cadbury’s changed the chocolate recipe. I think I’ll be boycotting them again. Very disappointing.

How was your Easter? Would you normally have spent it with family? Did you do anything virtually instead? Does the Easter bunny come to your house? Did it when you were a child? I’d love to hear about your Easter traditions and what you did this year instead.

Stay safe everyone. Love and hugs

Jessica xx

 

 

 

A Little Christmas Reading

Every Christmas I take time off work. Typically I like to have Christmas Eve off right through to New Year and, if there’s only a day or two after New Year’s Day (like this year), I like to add them to the end of my break. A week and a half off work. Perfect. What a lot of time to spend relaxing and reading.

Except that never really happens.

P1050958I have visions of spending a relaxing family Christmas Eve watching festive films and eating chocolate. I wish! Typically there’s some last minute Christmas card distribution, a trip down to the market to buy the Christmas dinner vege, and the 4.00pm Christingle Service with my Brownie Pack. I take the munchkin with me and the girls are asked to dress as kings, shepherds or angels which is lovely. Only the munchkin never seems to get ready on time, or has a last-minute costume change, or we can’t find something so it’s a fraught panic to get out of the house and arrive before the Brownies. But, once we’re there, it’s fabulous. We have a good turn-out from the Brownies each year with around 15 or so of my pack of 24 joining us. There’s something very magical about being surrounded by excited 7-10 year olds, dressed in their Christmas costumes, singing carols by candlelight on Christmas Eve. Despite the getting-out-the-house annual panic, it’s one of my favourite events of the year. I’m wondering if the nativity can top last year’s. I can’t remember exactly what happened but it pretty much descended into disorganised chaos and I got the giggles. I often get the giggles. I know I shouldn’t when trying to be the role model for a group of children but, hey, if you can’t laugh at Christmas, when can you?

I’d best return to the point of this blog post which was about reading. So, every year I have these great intentions of doing a stack of reading. I’ve noticed more and more Christmassy books appearing over the last decade or so and they always look so enticing on the shelves (or the virtual shelves on Amazon). I’d never, ever bought a Christmas novel but I was drawn to one six years ago. The snowy cover enticed me, the blurb assured me it was my kind of story and, although I wasn’t familiar with the author, I made the purchase. But here’s what happened:

_MG_6905Year 1 – the book came home from the bookstore, got put on the shelf, got forgotten about

Year 2 – I picked the book up and read one chapter but Christmas chaos ruled and, by the time I picked up the book again three months later, I’d forgotten what happened in chapter 1 and I decided it was no longer the time of year to read about Christmas so it went back on the shelf

Year 3 – Exactly the same as Year 2 except I think I managed two chapters this time!

Year 4 – I had gritty determination to conquer my Christmas novel and, although I struggled to find time during the day to relax and read, I made sure I read some each evening. I actually finished the book before the end of January but, unfortunately, I didn’t like it! What an anti-climax! I was absolutely determined to plough through it because of the epic number of attempts to read it but I didn’t warm to the heroine, I didn’t really believe the story, and I was hugely disappointed by the ending. Needless to say, I’m not going to share the name of the book or author. Perhaps it was just me. Perhaps my battle to read it had already clouded my feelings and I was never going to enjoy it. Poor book

Year 5 – I was excited to discover a Christmas book in my RNA Conference goody bag. I decided I’d start this one much earlier so that I’d be well into it by the time Christmas itself hit and I’d make myself find a few snatched moments across the holidays to bury my nose in it. I managed about three chapters but then Christmas hit and we dug out a Christmas jigsaw we’d bought the year before but never opened. The munchkin likes jigsaws and I’ve helped her complete children’s ones over the years but I haven’t done a complicated jigsaw since I was a child and, here we were, presented with a 1000-piece scene from a toy shop at Christmas. We lay it out on the coffee table and all joined in. I had no idea that it would be so hard or that it would become an addiction; one that caused hours to whizz by without me noticing. The Christmas book is still on my bedside shelf with the marker in at the start of chapter 4. And, guess what? Yep, I can’t remember what’s happened so far.

This year, however, I’m already ahead of myself. Because this year, I’ve discovered the wonder of the novella. If I’m honest, I hadn’t actually heard of a novella until last summer. In my mind, there were novels and there were short stories and I had no idea of a concept that existed in-between and may I say what a wonderful concept it is.

As a writer, I should read. I know I should. It’s research. It’s enjoyment. But as a writer who also has a full-time job, a Brownie pack to run, goes to bootcamp 3 mornings a week, and has a family, time really is a struggle. I hardly ever watch TV as evenings are my writing time. I’m trying to get into the habit of going to bed a smidge earlier and reading before sleep, even if only a chapter. The novella has helped massively because these are stories that are long enough to develop characters, make you care about them, and tell a decent story, yet they’re short enough to be read across just a few evenings. Perfect for the person with no time.

The fact that I’ve read three Christmas-themed novellas already and we’re still a few days off Christmas Day speaks volumes. Ok, so I cheated and I actually read one of them over half term in October whilst on my holidays, but it was still a novella set at Christmas and I did go on to read the other two in the series.

So, here’s my lowdown:

The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come by Jo Bartlett

51RNIeU+KiL._AA160_Even if Jo wasn’t a fellow-Write Romantic and great friend, I would still be raving about this book because it’s gorgeous. Set in the fictional St Nicholas Bay (where I want to move right now!), it spans across a whole year, starting and ending with Christmas, and leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. I can’t recommend this novella enough. And it seems I’m not the only one; 15 x 5-star reviews agree!

Here’s the blurb:

The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come is a novella that spans two Christmases and one woman’s quest to complete a family with a missing piece.

School-teacher Kate Harris is about to turn thirty-four and suddenly the tick-tock of her biological clock is almost deafening. Facing another Christmas without a longed for child in her life, it’s time to take action.

With the support of her closest friends, in the close-knit small town of St Nicholas Bay, she decides to go it alone. But in a town where Christmas is big business all year round, and it’s rumoured that Charles Dickens wrote some of A Christmas Carol, it turns out Santa Claus isn’t the only one with mysterious powers.

Should Kate listen to a voice from beyond the grave telling her to slow down and wait for her real fate to be revealed, or follow her heart and find the missing pieces of her family in a way she’d never imagined?

Holly’s Christmas Kiss by Alison May

61JIt0EQtvL._AA160_This Christmas Kisses novella was out last Christmas but I only downloaded it this year and I’m glad I did. From a wedding to an airport to snowy Scotland, this is another warm and fuzzy read that will leave you smiling. I’m off to download the second Christmas Kisses novella right now, Cora’s Christmas Kiss, as I think I’ve time to squeeze in one more before Christmas Day!

Here’s the blurb:

Happy Holidays? Not for Michelle…

Holly Michelle Jolly hates Christmas and she has a good reason to. Apart from her ridiculously festive name which made her the brunt of jokes at school, tragic and unfortunate events have a habit of happening to her around the holiday season. And this year is no different.

After the flight to her once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination is cancelled, Michelle faces the prospect of a cold and lonely Christmas. That is, until she meets Sean Munro. Sean loves Christmas, and he wants to share the magic with Michelle.

With Sean’s help, can Michelle experience her first happy Christmas, or will their meeting just result in another year of memories that she’d rather forget?

Christmas at The Gingerbread Café by Rebecca Raisin

51JIuTL6nPL._AA160_This is the first in a series of novellas set in Ashford, Connecticut; a small town with lots of small businesses including Lily’s Gingerbread Café. I gobbled up the first three novellas whilst on holiday over half term and am about to download the fourth which is set at Christmas too. Perhaps that’s one for after Alison’s?

Here’s the blurb:

Christmas is the season the Gingerbread Café in Ashford, Connecticut was made for…but owner Lily couldn’t be feeling less merry if she tried. She’s spent another year dreaming of being whisked away on a sleigh-ride for two, but she’s facing festive season alone – again. And, just to give her another reason to feel anything other than candy-cane perky, a new shop across the road has opened… Not only is it selling baked goods, but the owner, with his seriously charming smile, has every girl in town swooning.

But Lily isn’t about to let her business crumble — the Gingerbread Café is the heart of the community, and she’s going to fight for it! This could be the Christmas that maybe, just maybe, all her dreams – even the someone-to-decorate-the-Christmas-tree-with ones – really do come true!

P1060064Of course, there are a stack of other novellas and novels out there. These are just three that I have read and loved and therefore recommend if you want something quick that will make you smile and make you care.

Oh, and Winter Tales: Stories to Warm Your Heart is still available, of course, with all proceeds going to Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust.

Happy reading and Happy Christmas!

Jessica xxx